Vredens Dag [1943)

Quarante-et-un.  Quarante-deux.

Quarante trois.

Goddamn, life is sad.

This is not a film to be watched once.

And not a film for young minds (though the pearly Lisbeth Movin gausses gossamer every vignette).

Form ever follows function.  So sayeth Louis Sullivan.

Your gauss is as good as mien.

Meshes of the afternoon blur her tearstained smile.

Movin’ on up, now.

In evolution.  Function ever following form.

Invocation vs. induction.

Carl Friedrich’s magnetic flux density.

88 miles-per-hour for all us schmucks out there.

Who is crazier:

the witches or the witch hunt?

The conspirators or the conspiracy theorists?

Myths overlaid like handiwork upon reality.

So that all of life is misunderstood.

Religion.

Not a theory, but a story.

A hall-of-mirrors lens.

Same.

17th century.

By my watch.

What century you got?

The witch craze.

The accusation frenzy.

Hysteria.  Wisteria.  Listeria.

Meanwhile, there was a fucking war going on.

Day of Wrath.  Dies irae.  Rachmaninov obsessed with the downward spiral.

Televised executions.

The Houellebecq method of citation.

Tag and seek.

Luddites invading Fort Meade.

Digital grinders.  And grindermen.

That USJFCOM found an enemy at a propitious time.

Inviting Christensen down from Harvard Business School to disrupt.

From Häxan through the Swedish.

Most everything passes through Denmark here.

The last executioner.

The founder (with a Grinder man) of neuro-linguistic programming who was charged with murder.

Age differences in relationships.  [Aha!  A sesame seed!!]

Pagans.  Odin.  Wednesday.

Hair parted right down the middle like John Waters’ mustache migrated due north (prove that you’re not a robot).

Professional videogame player?!?  Where’s the market for that…

And, of course, The Gambia.  No industrial light nor magic there.

White white white.

White man say all good thing come from him.

White man invent every innovation.

White man naturally attracted to white woman.

A Victoria’s Secret Angel with leprosy.  Yowzah!

Norwegian jazz.  A bit like Utah jazz.

But, most of all, yodelers!

Which is how I got on this string.

The grave importance of string theory.

Because her needlepoint tells a story.

A mother walking hand-in-hand with a son.

But the mother is the younger one.

The two mothers.

One a goddess of archetype.

The other a bored housewife.

You actually have to go back to 1590 for this kind of boredom.

But it comes alive.  Kiss.

Thanks to Dreyer.  A true auteur.  A true Danish genius.

Anna Svierkier acts her flabby behind off.

Thorkild Roose looks like Hume Cronyn in Brewster’s Millions (1985).

Such sad perfection from Sigrid Neiiendam.

It is not the hero role for Preben Lerdorff Rye.

No Ordet, this.

He might be stuck in the bog.  Or he might have gone around the bog.

It’s like a bad porno.

But Movin is a star on the order of Adrianna Nicole.

The Blue Bunny.

Brown is the Warmest Color.

Somebody please cast Adrianna Suplick in something.

Suplick?  Movin.  [Golly.]

Which is to say that Lisbeth Movin fills up the screen like a supernova.

Collapsing.  Prolapsing.  Yikes…

Her husband cofounded the works at Hellerup.

Ketchup.

Godspeed you b!ack emperor tomato

Spells ALM.  And nobody thought code.

Fearsome beauty of genius.

 

-PD

 

 

Ordet [1955)

I’m so scared of life.

So scared of death.

And everything in between.

And so I thank the God of all religions.

My God.  Whom I do not own.  Not mine alone.

Once, an old lady in a corner taught me how to pronounce Søren Kierkegaard.  [Kierka Gourd]

And I delivered a speech of mere seconds…in Denmark…extolling Ordet.

And now we have come full circle.

What was living has died.

And in the spark of a moment is alive again.

That is the miracle of cinema which the auteur theorists captured.

It’s not just the story.  It’s how you tell it.

That spark of manipulating the mystery…the seventh art…cinema…that is authorship.

The breath of life.

Magic.

Yes.

Anything can happen in the movies.

Everything is possible.

The mutants receive new life from David Byrne and Luaka Bop captures a situation à la Yves Klein.

Johannes will often spout out nonsense.  Seemingly.  The insanity of religion.

But few times has the essence of faith been so lovingly portrayed as here.

Certainly Francesco, giullare di Dio.  Rossellini.  Five years previous.

Yes, the jester of God.

I am here for you.  For that very purpose.  My sermon.  Amen.

Now that we finally have a Pope who espouses omnism.

And there are those who would call him antichrist.

Rubbish!

Be like Peter.  Peter Peterson.  Reread the words of Jesus.

It’s all a bunch of unimportant bollocks over which we are arguing.

And meanwhile propaganda puts truth at the service of falsehood.

But I’m just a messed up kid.

I’ve studied too much.

Like Johannes.

I’m delusional.

Especially insofar as thinking I can change anything whatsoever.

What faith!  What insanity!!

No.

I merely have the heart of Mikkel.  The doubter.

And I grow into the form of Morten.  The pessimist.

But what about that magic?

That electric guitar with a lightening flash?  Perfectly synchronized.

Those behind-the-scenes meanderings of God.  A humble god.  Not drawing too much attention.

Yes, that is the sentiment of Inger (Birgitte Federspiel).

Everything we have ever loved.

Taken from us.

Goodbye.

And all the while Preben Lerdorff Rye wanders around as if in a trance.

Exactly like Nicolas de Gunzberg in Vampyr.

Exactly like Falconetti in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc.

And exactly like the mad saints who penned the great maniacal books.

The Gospel of John (Johannes).  The Word.  Ordet.

And the Book of Revelation.  Dangerous plaything of the lonely.

Harmless psychedelia taken literally.

So obviously a bad trip.  And what a perfect exclamation of fear to finalize the canon.

And how ironic that the futurists have never heard of Giacomo Balla or Carlo Carrà or even Marinetti himself.

Yes.  Not at all ironic.

Dialectic.  Socratic method.  Devil’s advocate.

Unity of opposites.  Heraclitus.  Logos.

I say, my good man…  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Harrumph!

Is the auto-antonym flammable or inflammable?  Make up your mind!

And cleave TO or diverge like cleavage (literally)?

Which is to say, “defined by its opposite”.

Leadership><Followership.

You’ll end up hating algebra (wink wink).

iff!

(~)

ñot!  Borat.

Bathetic (!)

+ or

with black pieces, mind you:

“1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5 3.Nf3 d6 4.c3 Bg4 5.Bc4 Nd7 6.h3 Bxf3 7.Qxf3 Qe7 8.a4 a6 9.b4 Ba7 10.Na3 Ngf6 11.f5 c6 12.d3 h6 13.Nc2 Rd8 14.Be3 Bb8 15.O-O Nh7 16.Qg4 Qf8 17.h4 Ndf6 18.Qf3 Qe7 19.g4 d5 20.Bc5 Bd6 21.Bxd6 Qxd6 22.Bb3 O-O 23.Rad1 g5 24.Ne3 Kg7 25.h5 Rfe8 26.Rf2 Nf8 27.Rb2 b5 28.Ra2 d4 29.axb5 axb5 30.Nc2 Ra8 31.Rxa8 Rxa8 32.cxd4 exd4 33.Kg2 N8d7 34.Qf2 Nxg4 35.Qxd4+ Qxd4 36.Nxd4 Ne3+ 37.Kf3 Nxd1 38.Bxd1 Ne5+ 39.Ke3 Ra1 40.Be2 Rb1 41.Nf3 Nxf3 42.Bxf3 Rxb4 43.e5 c5 44.Bc6 Rb1 45.Ke4 b4 46.Kd5 b3 47.Kd6 b2 48.Ke7 Re1 49.f6+ Kg8 50.Be4 Rxe4 51.dxe4 b1=Q 52.Kd6 Qxe4 0–1”

Will easily lead you to a rather insignificant Rousseau.

A social contract for the turnstiles.

“the things that you’re liable/to read in the Bible”

And yet the tearstains remain on my glasses…

Like a day at the beach.

Long ago.

Salty.

I pray this that and the uttering.

The word.

If it be possible.

 

-PD

Vampyr [1932)

I come to you from the darkest place.

Where all hope has been extinguished.

A maze of study and revelation.

Barely a word here spoken.

Do not give me your attention.

I am not the first person.

You wander in this dream.

He comes to know the horror.

Her and her alone.

Climb climb climb from the mist of history.

Give up your secrets to the light.

Vampyr, Kryptos, Tutankhamun.

IQLUSION.  1Q84.

gravity’s rainbow.  CERN.

In a Glass Darkly.  Published in Ireland.  1872.

Sheridan Le Fanu.  Dublin.

Does Langley know about this?

Always candles.  Always lighting candles.

NYPVTT.  Berlin.

Nicolas de Gunzberg as Julian West as Allan Gray.  Got it?

MZFPK.  We’re losing time quickly.

At an even pace.

Speeding towards the hour.

As slowly as we’ve ever been.

William H. Webster.  The only person to have ever headed both the CIA and the FBI.

Courtempierre.  Loiret.

Ah!  The review…

As if waking from a dream.

Or falling back into a nightmare.

Placing one foot in front of the other.

Rena Mandel could have come straight from Nosferatu.

Like Greta Schröder.  1922.  1932.

Not flapper like Frances Dade.  Blonde on blonde.  Helen Chandler.

UFA wanted Dracula to come out first.

A strange tactic.

And then utter failure.

But Sybille Schmitz has that Nazi jawline.  Like Leni Riefenstahl.

Spoonsful of tea for a dying man.

Candles peer in through the glass.

And the camera stares upwards…at the swaying trees.

It is like Nobody Died at Sandy Hook.

To be opened after my death.

Sealed in wax thrice.

Submission is the only slow number.

Mid-tempo.  A revelation.  Talisman.

A crooked doctor.  And you’re giving blood.

They’re putting you on statins.

The drug companies will pay.  And general practitioners will have impunity whoring for big pharma.

A view to a kill.

Berlin.  Surrounded by East Germany.

Mengenlehreuhr.  Yale.

Ooga booga.

Buried alive in the blues.

Come spend a life in Texas.

With no one.

Come be abandoned in Texas.

Not even on the island.

Information warfare.

He is getting his message out desperately.

Franz Liszt as Marguerite Chopin.

No comment from Gounod.

Walpurgisnacht.

Nerval translated 1828.

Gretchen.  Margaret.  Marguerite.

Ettersberg.  Buchenwald.

We see why Godard became suspicious.

Because all but the Dutch declined Resnais’ solicitation for holocaust footage.

Inside the camps.

During the war.

By the most technologically-advanced civilization in terms of film production.

Obsessive-compulsive documenters of expenditures.

The problem with the gas chambers.

Sybille Schmitz looks like a raving lunatic.

The ecstasy of Stockholm syndrome.  A bank.  Those doe eyes and bearded hippie among the safe-deposit boxes.

The Goethe Oak at Buchenwald.  THE Goethe Oak?  George Washington slept here.

The Goethe Oak bombed by the Allies.

Now a concrete stump thanks to the DDR.

Goethe Eiche.

Janus-faced Germany.  Januskopfes Deutschland.  Sounds like a load of rubbish to me.

Schiller’s beech tree didn’t bite the dust till 2007.

Death by flour.

I’ll say it again:  Wikipedia’s masterpiece.  “List of unusual deaths”.

 

-PD

 

 

 

La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc [1928)

For this one I should really write a good piece.

Because this is a miracle of cinema.

Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.

You might cue it up on Hulu (good luck with Netflix) as part of the Criterion Collection.

You might put your headphones on.

But the Criterion Collection presents this as a truly silent film.

We know that that wasn’t the case most of the time with “silent” films.

They had live piano accompaniment.  Perhaps an orchestra.

In some countries (Japan?) they had sound effects performed live.

But watching La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc today is truly a lonely experience. 

You might keep the headphones on out of habit (as if a sound might finally emerge…but it never does).

It takes a valiant effort to watch this film in its totality and not cry when the famous scene comes.

“The famous scene” I refer to is the one made famous by Godard’s best “movie”:  Vivre sa vie.

Anna Karina sits in a movie theater and watches this very film.  And we join her just in time to see the tears roll down her cheeks.

Joan of Arc.

She stood for something.

And somehow, a “religious” court found her guilty.  She is labeled for all time, by this panel of judges, an “apostate” and an “idolater”.

What a tragedy!

It very plainly shows us the error of religion.

Joan’s religion is pure.  Her dedication is personal.

And who ever gave “the Church” the power to kill?

There is no part of the New Testament which even suggests such a power should emanate from Jesus through the Apostles (his “descendants”) and on down the ages to “the Church”.

And so Christianity failed.  There are a lot of apologies to be handed out.  The Inquisition, etc.

[It should be pointed out that the Catholic Church rectified this mistake made by a regional element which was allied with the English against the French.]

But the important thing is that Joan stood.

She stood for something.  Even if she was a fiery mystic like Hildegard von Bingen.

And who do we have to look to today?

I would say Snowden.  Is Snowden the real article?

He is certainly filling the needed role.

The great evil now is the surveillance state.

It is plain and simple.

And Will Smith should win the Oscar for Best Actor in Concussion even if for one line:  “Tell the truth!”

But there are far more important things on which we need the truth.

9/11, the War “on” Terror, ISIS…

Who is standing for those nearly 3000 who died horrible deaths in New York City?

When you wave a false flag, your soldiers don’t mete out justice.

When you wave a false flag, you get the wrong people.

No wonder Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had to be waterboarded 183 times.

And Guantanamo is full of goat farmers.

Therefore (q.e.d.), the 19 hijackers story (being impossible without the assistance of highly-placed “moles” in both the FBI and CIA) is the deadliest “Once upon a time…” ever written.

As much sympathy as I have for all those who died on 9/11 (and it is substantial), we must recognize the web of death which emanated from that lie…that “Once upon a time…”.  Try reading the 9/11 Commission Report without vomiting.  Why, because it is graphic?  No.  Because it reads like “My Pet Goat” (which George W. Bush was busy reading in Florida while he should have been rushing for cover = fake terror [w/ real death]).

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria…

It is disgusting.  There is not a “dictator” or “warlord” in the world who has wrought the needless destruction which the United States of America (by way of lies) has visited upon the Muslim world in the past 15 years.

But let’s be fair.  Our soldiers have been tricked.  Their lives have been ruined in the course of fighting this imperial war.  I am an American.  I pity our military.  They did not join up to fight shadow wars.  They did not join up to be the tools of imperialists.  They wanted to protect the United States.  Their generals have only succeeded in making the world a more dangerous place.

And that brings us to ISIS.  ISIS typifies everything fake about the War “on” Terror.  From the bastards who brought you the self-inflicted wound known as 9/11 comes a new comedy starring those wild and crazy terrorists who sprang up from nowhere.

Just like al-Qaeda.  Sprang up from nowhere.  Of course, there was the Operation Cyclone-era groundwork laid (that would be, CIA funding), but in general the “roll-out” of al-Qaeda was fairly quick.  But ISIS took the cake.  The confectioners of fake terror (that would be, the U.S., U.K., NATO countries, Israel, Five Eyes, take your pick, etc.) really outdid themselves with their speed to market in introducing ISIS.  In doing so, the New World Order (let’s call them) cannibalized their own product (al-Qaeda) just as Apple does each time it rolls out a new iPhone.

And so it has been transparent all along.  The catchy name has incriminated ISIS (no fundamentalist terrorist group from the Middle East would ever name themselves after an Egyptian pagan god) from the beginning.

ISIS is like a water cooler joke at Langley.  The spooks can’t believe how dumb we are.

And so it has been the U.S. airdrops which have sustained ISIS.  Yes, Turkey has provided a good bit of sustenance (under the aegis of NATO).

And the aerial campaign against ISIS’ formidable Toyota (!) trucks?  Nonexistent.

WE have been ISIS’ air force.  We haven’t been bombing ISIS.  At all.  Ever.

Russia has made this clear.

Make no mistake, Russia entered the Syrian theater because of the insanity of NATO along her borders.

Since Russia has entered:

-Russian passenger jumbo jet blown up over the Sinai Peninsula

-sabotage operation of explosions which have knocked out a considerable amount of power in Crimea (in the winter)

– Turkish (NATO) shootdown of Russian fighter/bomber

These are not pleasant things.

It is hard to tell exactly what role the Paris attacks played.

I think they were an American operation which backfired when France leaned towards Russia.  It is, however, possible that it was a French-engineered false-flag to allow France a pretext for joining Russia.  Perhaps the DGSE saw no other solution than sacrificing a hundred or so Parisians to stop the American war of insanity in Syria.

What is most obvious is the general arc of this farce:  9/11 (absolutely false narrative regarding the guilty party), the War “on” Terror (more lies lies lies…never ending war…profits for Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, United Technologies, etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum ad nauseam), and ISIS (as fake as the Kuwaiti babies being ripped out of incubators which was foisted upon the U.S. Congress thanks to Hill & Knowlton PR firm).

And so we stand.  Each in our own little ways.

The panopticon is already constructed.

The camps are empty.

The data vacuumed up thus far will be mined from now till eternity.

Thus, Snowden needs to be eclipsed.

Who will be the next great human to take the world stage?

 

-PD

Easy Virtue [1928)

Justice is just ice…frozen water under the bridge of sighs…

It was a long night.

Night of the long knives.  Knives out.

I had the thousand-yard stare.

Easy Virtue is almost an unwatchable movie for any reasonable 21st century human being.  Watching ants roam in lazy lines is more interesting than this early Alfred Hitchcock picture.

Decanter?  I thought he was de Rabbi.

God…what we wouldn’t give for a little Chico Marx in this film.  Hell…Harpo would be even more suited to this silent snoozer.

Isabel Jeans looks fantastic…even when she’s taking a tennis ball to the head…dans le Midi.

Sure…there are faint parallels to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari…perhaps a door here and there like Nosferatu or Dreyer’s Vampyr, but this just really isn’t Hitchcock’s bag.

Yes…I grew up to that old adage…people who are bored are boring.  Something like that.  Well, I guess I’m a spoiled Internet-addicted loser with a paunch…and boring to boot…because this here film bores the ever-lovin’ socks off me.

I could make up some excuse or talk about how great Henri Langlois was (he was!)…but it doesn’t change the Britishness of this dire picture.

Dreadfully sorry…  Mercifully ending transmission here.

-PD

Le Petit soldat [1963)

“La photographie, c’est la vérité, et le cinéma, c’est vingt-quatre fois la vérité par seconde.”  It is one of the most famous quotes in the history of cinema and likewise among the most often quoted in relation to Godard, yet it is a line in a film…this film…and it is delivered by the character Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor).  And so, there is some distance from the auteur…perhaps very little , but yet it exists.  This is just one of the odd disconnects about this brilliant film.

The synopsis on Wikipedia presents another right off the bat.  Bruno is a deserter from the French military, yet he is working for French intelligence in Geneva.  On the surface this seems irreconcilable, yet a bit of thought opens up several possibilities.  First, the “French intelligence” under consideration might be an organization not wholly sanctioned by the French government.  We hear of these dark organizations often.  Rogue branches.  Rogue networks.  Informal connections.  Perhaps even an entire parallel government (or, at the very least, intelligence apparatus).  Second, we must take the film’s context to ascertain the indisputable fact that Bruno Forestier isn’t entirely a free agent.  In other words, his record is being used against him to greater or lesser extent to blackmail him into performing dirty deeds (assassinations) for this intel branch (asset by coercion).  Again, this certainly isn’t without precedent in real world situations.

But perhaps the greatest dissonance, though nuanced, is presented in something Jean-Luc Godard himself wrote in 1960.  As this film was banned in France for three years, this written explanation would predate the film’s release by the same number of years.  It can be found in the Simon and Schuster Modern Film Scripts version of the action (1967, English translation by Nicholas Garnham).  In this short piece, Godard explains his take on the film.  The focus is on realism.  Cinematographer Raoul Coutard, who had been a war photographer in Indochina, was integral in conveying Godard’s vision by way of a handheld camera (as opposed to the large Mitchell camera which he used on his next film Une Femme est une femme).  The auteur likewise makes reference to “whip-pans, over- and under-exposed shots, one or two blurred ones,” etc. in dissecting his own mise-en-scène.  The beginning of this introduction apparently comes from issue no.109 of Cahiers du cinema.  More importantly, what follows in this introduction delineates his focus on stubborn freedom.  It is in this concept which Godard manages to declare that Le Petit soldat “is not politically orientated in a particular direction.”

This was not something I had previously noted in prior viewings, but I can see how Godard might claim such.  Indeed, Bruno Forestier is a very conflicted character.  In some ways he is the noble version of Michel Poiccard from Breathless.  Both have a strange, tenuous grasp on ethics.  Nihilism abounds in both, yet Forestier’s brand almost comes off as a noir Buddhism.  It is little wonder that Godard would later dedicate one of Histoire(s) du cinema‘s chapters to Clint Eastwood.

Bruno Forestier is far from perfect, but in that condition he is still charming and likable…even heroic to a certain extent.  There is no doubt that Rossellini’s Roma città aperta loomed large as an influence for the torture sequences of our film.  It might even be said that this Godard film is more poignant now (with respect to torture) than it has ever been.  Bruno is subjected to a method not unlike waterboarding.

But there are other pithy quotes such as, “…killing a man from a distance, I think it’s dishonest.”  This almost begs to be compared to the drone strikes which have become sadly ubiquitous in our upside-down world.

Yet, amidst all of this painful reality, Godard manages to outdo himself in artistic name-dropping.  Paul Klee is referenced multiple times (Swiss artist, movie set in Geneva).  We sympathize with Bruno Forestier partly because he is artistic (a photographer).  “And Veronica, are her eyes Velasquez grey or Renoir grey?”  So muses Bruno about Veronica Dreyer (Anna Karina).  This was, in fact, her first film for Godard.  Dreyer is no doubt an homage to Carl Theodor Dreyer (Danish actress, Danish legend/director).  The artistic references are almost comical at times…such as when Jean Cocteau’s novel Thomas l’imposteur is improbably brought into play.

One final thought.  Maurice Le Roux’s music plays a vital role in setting this film apart from anything Godard had done in his first four films.  The dense, clustered piano textures play like Henry Cowell improvising on Brahms. After the tides of Manaunaun, that Irish god of motion, wash Veronica’s fate ashore Lake Geneva, we get the biggest shock of all: Bruno behaving like Meursault from L’Étranger.  The final disconnect comes from recalling that Bruno told Veronica he detests Camus.

-PD

Vivre sa vie: film en douze tableaux [1962)

This.  This was the film which started it all for me.  My fatal love for cinema.  You must excuse me if I write in the tone which Godard employed.  It is one of the most complex branches of his filmlanguagetree.  And you must excuse me if I dabble Joycean here and there.

Really, it all started with a book by James Monaco called The New Wave.  Once upon a time my paperback copy had a cover.  I believe I paid 50 cents for the book…maybe 25.  But that cover is long gone and now my copy begins with page five.  Ah, but it is all so clear in my memory.  It was bathtub reading.  My first successful experiment with this was a few years previous when I’d read Henry Miller’s The Rosy Crucifixion during a particularly impoverished time.  Unemployed and discouraged, I had given up hope of finding gainful employment and, rather, resorted to afternoon baths with the erotic anarchy of Miller to keep me company.

And so it was…about four years ago, that I made Monaco’s book my mental edification during absolutions.  Yes, the book would inevitably get wet, fall in the water…even on the edge of the tub…but as it died, I lived.

First came Truffaut.  Enjoyable enough.  I rented all of his films I could find and imbibed the criticism of Monaco.  Then came Godard.  I had probably seen a bit of Sympathy for the Devil as a kid.  “What is this pretentious shit?!?,” I must have thought at the time.  Indeed, delving into Godard can be a shock in many, many ways.  Much later (as a young adult) I saw my first JLG film proper.  Week-end.  I was blown away by its brilliance, but still I didn’t equate the cerebral invention as specifically Godardian.  No, I chalked it up to the brilliance of the French in general…along with Renoir and Truffaut.

It would take many years before I returned to French cinema.  Girls came and went.  I changed dwellings often.  And as I started to read Monaco’s chapter on Godard I noticed an ad in the Austin Chronicle for a showing of the film in question:  at the University of Texas student union ballroom.  And it was free!

And so I strode off into the night and paid to park my car…it must have been December…a cold night if I remember.  I sat amongst what, at the time, I didn’t realize to be film students.  The whole concept was foreign to me.  It didn’t even register that UT had a film department.  I was a professional musician.  I knew music.  That was it.

And then it started.  “Somebody better check the projector,” I thought (as the sound seemed to sputter in stops and starts).  Something’s not right here.  Is she moving?  Yes!  You can see her lips move.  Wait, I just saw her blink!

And so Godard ushered the world (including Susan Sontag, back in the day) into his third feature film.  Hot off the unexpected success of Breathless and the 180 turn that was A Woman is a Woman, Godard again turned the tables on audiences.  The stark noir is reminiscent of Godard’s first film, but the mood is…moody.

This is, without a doubt, my favorite of Godard’s classic-era films.  I think it is the best movie he ever made.  His great work is Histoire(s) du cinema, but that is really other as Roland Kirk might have said.

We see Godard challenging himself here…filming actors from behind (multiple times throughout this picture).  After two features, he seemed ready to push, push…farther.  But along with these dodecaphonic experiments, there is still the magic of chance (?) like the woman emerging from the alley across the street, running as if late (while Anna Karina and mate play a leisurely game of pinball [another motif, that]).

This entire website owes its visual stamp to the third tableau:  La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc.  Karina sits in a movie theater, perhaps trying to forget her woes, and (to paraphrase Neil Young) she falls in love with an actress…playing a part she could understand.  The mysterious Renée Jeanne Falconetti…who only appears in this film and two others according to IMDB (one being a short, the other a blank page on Wikipedia)…  Suffice it to say that “Falconetti” (as someone in the theater (Godard?) can be heard to say during the silent scene-within-a-scene) is known today almost exclusively for her role in this Carl Th. Dreyer masterpiece from 1928.  As Anna Karina watches Falconetti and Antonin Artaud (also an actor in this film), she is brought to tears in what is the most cinematically delicate and gossamer-perfect moment of Godard’s entire (ongoing) career.

Karina is fantastic in this film.  The cinematic language employed obscures the pathos of her performance somewhat.  We don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Indeed, in the ending segment of the whole film (think Magazine’s “Shot From Both Sides”) I let out a nervous laugh upon first seeing this in the theater as if I was Joan of Arc in the hands of Jacques Rivette (her funeral, my trial).  It’s amazing though how this movie hits me differently now with some years under my belt.  For all its panache, this really is a sad, sad story.  But in homage to B-movies, it doesn’t take itself too seriously…fumbling over itself like Chaplin bleeding to death.

I can’t/won’t discuss every aspect of this timeless Fabergé egg, but one scene bears mentioning above all the rest:  Nana’s dance.  It is Anna Karina at her best…trying to pretend she’s in a musical and not in a drab neorealist sob fest.  It is Michel Legrand at his best…providing the swagger of a Gainsbourg instead of the syrup which he poured on Demy’s fairy tales.  And it is Jean-Luc Godard at his best…making sure the billiard balls click during the pregnant pauses of a go-go, ye-ye number which otherwise would have seemed overdubbed. Even if it was, they still click.  That is the magic of cinema in the hands of Godard.  It is the jazz of foot traffic…the gambler’s audacious framing of everyday life.

-PD

The Manxman [1929)

The Isle of Man has two movie theaters as of 2014.  Alfred Hitchcock’s last silent film was set on this little island between Great Britain and Ireland (though it was actually filmed in Cornwall).  It’s amazing how much a director can improve in one year.  The previous year had seen the release of Hitchcock’s dull “rom-com” The Farmer’s Wife.  Truth be told:  The Manxman is just a much better story.

In simplest terms, it is the drama of two men (best friends) in love with the same girl.  She’s in love with one of them, but unfortunately not the one she ends up marrying.  The whole thing bears a striking resemblance in tone to Ingmar Bergman’s Summer with Monika (1953).  In fact, the more general mood of the film might be successfully compared to Bergman and Dreyer (a Swede and Dane respectively).  This is not going against the history of The Isle of Man.  The Norse began settling on the isle in the 9th century.  The island’s history is tied not only to Norway, but also the Hebrides civilization.

More importantly, the dramatic material is simply much more suited to what would become Hitchcock’s signature style.  The girl (played by Anny Ondra) throws herself off the quayside in a suicide attempt.  She is not successful.  The viewer familiar with Vertigo might rightly snap to Kim Novak plunging into San Francisco Bay (and warming herself in Jimmy Stewart’s apartment after failing to drown herself).

The dénouement comes when Ondra stands before a deemster (name for judge on Isle of Man) for the crime of attempted suicide.  The judge just so happens to be the man she loves (and it’s his first day on the job!).  The courtroom drama nicely anticipates an underappreciated Hitchcock gem starring Alida Valli called The Paradine Case (1947).  Our film ends up in a bizarre admission by the deemster that he is not fit for the bench owing to his surreptitious dealings with Ondra.

The Manxman in question (played by Carl Brisson) is left to deal with the heartbreak of having been tricked from marriage to fatherhood and beyond.  We end up feeling pity for him, but for most of the film we sympathize with the star-crossed lovers (Ondra and Malcolm Keen).  Keen’s surname in the film is Christian (Philip Christian) and we see him struggle with his situation in a way that today might be termed quaint.  Max Weber might call it the Protestant love ethic.

In closing, this film is definitely worth watching.  There is particular anguish and tension (artfully conveyed) in the child custody scene.  Hitchcock’s ingenuity starts coming to the fore in his final experiment with silence.

-PD

The Lady Vanishes [1938)

Sigmund Froy.  Was it all just a dream?  The word conspiracy comes from a Latin root meaning, “to breathe together.”  A quick Google search might uncover a Warhol print from 1969 with essentially the same message (over a lithographed photo of the electric chair from Sing Sing).  The poster is a relic from an art auction and sale held Dec. 11th of that year in Chicago at the LoGuidice Gallery “for the Conspiracy Defense.”

This would refer to the Chicago Seven (including Abbie Hoffman).  [N.B.  They were otherwise known as the Chicago Eight until Bobby Seale’s trial was made separate.]  Charged with conspiracy, they were found not guilty of this crime.

Alfred Hitchcock was an expert in conspiracies at least as early as 1938.  If he had made no other films than The Lady Vanishes, he should have been remembered as fondly as Murnau, Lang and Dreyer.  This film is that good!

I didn’t think it so the first time I saw it.  I found it rather dull in fact.  But the talent is there.  This was Hitchcock’s last British film before moving to the U.S.

Margaret Lockwood really is lovely and talented in this strange tale.  The Gasthof Petrus which more or less serves as our beginning locale is filmed with such warmth.  It is really a nimble touch which conveyed this coziness in the fictional locale of Bandrika.  It must be somewhere near the Republic of Zubrowka.

Charters and Caldicott are an amazing caricature of British society.  The two cricket enthusiasts avoid getting involved in anything that would delay their return to the Test match in Manchester until they absolutely are forced to face the facts.

Dame May Whitty is really amazing as Miss Froy.  She was 73 when this movie was made.  What a remarkable achievement!

Michael Redgrave goes from being an obnoxious, seemingly-spoiled musicologist to the saving grace for Lockwood’s dizzied character.

The first death in the film seems rather comical.  A serenader’s song is cut short by strangulation.  We assume from the comic tone of the film that perhaps a Gasthof guest had had enough and went Herbert Lom on the poor fellow.  What we don’t find out till later is that the song was a code…and dear, sweet, innocent old Miss Froy a bona fide spy.

Hitchcock uses some interesting effects in a lovingly magical way reminiscent of the spirit which grew from Méliès’ earliest experimentations.  The effects come as Lockwood’s concussion takes effect aboard the train.  A flower pot intended to knock out Miss Froy instead had landed on Lockwood’s unsuspecting head.  She boards the train anyway, but soon passes out.

Froy.  It is a moment when silent film returns to have its vengeance.  The train whistle is piercing and Lockwood cannot understand the name of her new companion who has so sweetly looked after her since boarding.  The clever spy nonchalantly spells her name in the dust on the train’s window.  Froy.  It will remain till later in the film when it appears just long enough to refortify Lockwood’s belief that the dear old lady had indeed existed.  When the train, at that point, passes into a tunnel…we assume that a waiter in on the conspiracy hurriedly erases the trace.

Once tea is done, the two ladies retire to their cabin (which they share with a rogues gallery of ugly mugs).  Lockwood slips off to sleep.  When she awakens, her grandmotherly friend is gone.  All in the cabin maintain that there never was a little old English lady there.  Lockwood begins to think she’s going mad.  In fact, nearly the whole train is in on the conspiracy.

Human nature is explored in fascinating detail as we see the few people who could help instead choose not to.  They might, none of them, ever end a sentence with a preposition, but far be it from any to venture outside their cozy little selfish worlds to bear witness to someone’s mere existence.  And so Lockwood must go it alone until Redgrave takes up her cause and one becomes two.

A fake Miss Froy is boarded at the only stop.  She is not at all the type…more like a Yugoslavian weightlifter than the dainty Froy we’d known.  Lockwood doesn’t buy it.  As Lockwood and Redgrave dig for clues, they get a little too close to the truth when then find the old lady’s broken glasses in the baggage car.  A fight ensues with the supremely spooky magician (one of Lockwood’s car mates) Signor Doppo.  Dispensing with him after some trouble (a knife fight), they gradually become haggled by a certain Dr. Hartz.  Hartz, a truly ghoulish figure, doesn’t arouse the suspicion of the pair until it is too late.

Leave it to a nun in high heels to give away the game.  By the way, whatever happened to those nuns on the police scanner at Sandy Hook?

The nun turns out to be an indispensable help to the sleuthing couple by dint that she has patriotic reservations about killing a fellow English woman (Miss Froy).  She turns out to be saintly in spite of not being a nun.  On this train she is darn near a literal whistleblower.  She even refuses to spike the brandies which were to be Lockwood and Redgrave’s essential demise (immobilization).

Such great character actors all around…  Philip Leaver as the magician and the cricket chaps:  Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford.  The latter two (Charters and Caldicott) went on to appear together (as the same characters) in three more non-Hitchcock films including Carol Reed’s Night Train to Munich (1940).

In conclusion, this film is highly recommended…not just by me, but by the million Mexicans in the hall!

 

-PD

 

The Lovely Bones [2009)

Somehow, at some point…people forgot how to make films.  This would be considered cinema in today’s Hollywood (which is to say, a great film).  Sadly, this is barely a good film.

Once upon a time there were masters like Murnau and Lang and Dreyer. They worked in an age before sound.  They had less variables to ponder.  And yet, they managed to tell stories in elegant, sophisticated ways.  There was no CGI.

Cut to the present film.  Saoirse Ronan is truly lovely, yet not even she can salvage this schmaltz.  To be sure, this is not a happy story.  I would like to congratulate director Peter Jackson, but I cannot do so without a plethora of caveats.

Let me start by saying that Mark Wahlberg, at least, does an excellent acting job.  I can’t help thinking of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch every time I see his name.  That was the age I was raised in:  ridiculous, posturing hip-hop.  Don’t get me wrong…some of it was good.  I even remember having a fondness for Wahlberg’s group, but suffice it to say that their oeuvre has not aged particularly well.  I fear the same might be the case with this film.

Stanley Tucci is excellent and creepy as hell as the serial killer George Harvey.  Susan Sarandon, on the other hand, is a caricature of herself…completely ridiculous and superfluous to any of the aims which this film should have had.  Rose McIver is actually quite good as Susie’s younger sister (though the film seems to suggest she is the older sister in the beginning…just one loose end among many, many others).

There are moments when this film touches on the sublime, but they may not be the ones of which you’re thinking.  When director Jackson approaches the realm of Hitchcock, he does so quite capably.  One even gets the sense that a Silence of the Lambs might be developing on screen.  Sadly, we seem to slip into What Dreams May Come.  Much better to emulate Alfred than Vincent Ward.  Yikes!

About these dream sequences–this “In-Between”…it is as if Salvador Dalí’s superb imagination was being hijacked by a third-rate M.C. Escher reproductionist.  It is as if we were watching the music video to Seal’s “Crazy.”  It is horrible.

Nikki SooHoo’s acting is really, really bad.  Poor girl.  She is the Jar Jar Binks of this ill-fated venture.

After all this CGI tomfoolery we finally have another shard of cinema when McIver find’s the murderer’s sketchbook.  The close-ups of her fingernails trying to silently lower the loose floorboard back into place have a gripping suspense worthy of Hitch.  Jackson at least does a good job of making fingernails (you heard me) a significant motif throughout the picture.  Tucci’s neatly manicured nails are pictured in close-up as he disgustingly fondles the dead Susie’s house charm which he ripped off her bracelet.

The story is not bad, but Jackson has not inspired me to read the book any time soon.  The motif of the kiss is a sweet sentiment and it is just one of many touching moments in this train-wreck of a film.  Susie is supposed to be the amateur photographer.  Jackson directs like a 14-year-old.  The film would doubtless have been better had he 1/100th the budget.

The overall narrative (with voiceover by Ronan) is a formulaic, staid, pale imitation of American Beauty.

One last thought:  I can’t believe Brian Eno did the music.  Sadly, the only musical moments which are transcendent come at the hands of Dave Edmunds and The Hollies (though the latter’s is ruined by a Sarandon montage).  Nay, I shan’t be running out to see any Lord of the Rings movies anytime soon.  This is a stinker which won’t soon enough evaporate from my memory.  Jackson could really use a good night in with TCM for starters (and then, perhaps, God forbid…an Ingmar Bergman movie).  Harmony Korine’s Julien Donkey-Boy obliterates The Lovely Bones in every aspect.  Google Dogme 95, Mr. Jackson.  Learning is fun.

 

-PD